“You will never be caught up. You will always be behind in some of your tasks and responsibilities.” — Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog
Just at the end of the year, you’re probably trying to finish up all your tasks to make space for the next 12 months. This attempt has often brought me to a breaking point — there were simply too many unfinished tasks on my list.
Here’s a much better idea.
Consciously uncommit from lesser goals, and promise yourself that from now on you will only work on your top priorities. It makes much more sense to put all your efforts into a limited list of vital goals, rather than making tiny progress on 20 things that may or may not matter in the long run.
Take one of my clients for example. She booked a coaching package with me to finish her writing project. But instead of working on that project, she presented me with a list of at least five other tasks that she has to do first. I knew she had to give up most of these things, but she had to come to that realisation herself — otherwise, her mindset wouldn’t shift. So we went through a few exercises to help her realise that she can’t do it all. It was painful for her. And it’s common. In fact, this happens with almost every client who hires me to help them finish their project.
Embracing the limitations of what we can do is hard.
“A limit-embracing attitude to time means organizing your days with the understanding that you definitely won’t have time for everything you want to do, or that other people want you to do.” — Oliver Burkman, Four Thousand Weeks: Embrace Your Limits. Change Your Life
Here is a series of steps you can take to focus on the vital goals — and make space for next year’s big priorities.
Make a mind sweep
“Every instruction we give, every course of action we set, every result we desire, starts with the same thing: a decision.” — Simon Sinek, Start With Why
Write down all your current tasks on a sheet of paper. I really mean everything. Even the tiniest thing you can.
Then mark each of them depending on how important they are to get closer to your future self vision:
* = Hell, yes! It’s part of my top 3.
L = Lesser goal. I’ll drop or delegate it.
? = Unsure. I’ll need to think about it.
My free template for the mind sweep exercise can be downloaded here as pdf.
Lesser goals: say no within 2 hours
If you want to remove commitments, you have to move fast. Otherwise, you fall back into your old mindset and start working on them again — just because you’re used to seeing them on your list.
My three top tips to say no, even if you’ve already committed to a project:
- Use email templates to say no to people fast and without getting defensive. E.g. “Unfortunately, I cannot fulfil this request, given the time and resources that I have. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to uncommit from this goal. Thank you for understanding.”
- Remember that every time you un-commit from a lesser goal you are doing other people a favour. You are being clear instead of working on something superficially because you don’t really have the time to do it well.
- You will also have to decline tasks that do matter to you but you can’t commit right now.
Once you’ve said no, cross them off your list. It is likely that other people will be inconvenienced, but that’s not your problem.
By saying ‘no’, you create space for your top priorities. Your work will become more meaningful and fulfilling. And you can dedicate more time to your vital goals to produce high-quality work.
Go back to the ‘not sure’ goals and make a decision
The easiest way to come to a decision is by working through a goal filter. I have one freely available here, but the important questions to think about are:
- What’s the goal about and what’s the deadline? Is it feasible to complete the goal to a high standard within the given time?
- What are my key motivations to work on this goal? Am I doing this only to please someone else?
- How does this goal connect with my future self? Is it something I simply want ‘out of the way’, or will I learn an important skill or make a crucial connection?
- What is the worst that can happen when I say no? Remember: this is your fear speaking — most of the time when I declined to work on a task, people were OK with it.
- What would I do with the time freed up by saying no to this goal?
- What’s my decision — keep or drop? If drop, when will I communicate the decision to my team or collaborators (pick a date)?
You can use my one-page goal filter to gain clarity. Don’t overthink it. Your gut already knows if you want to keep or drop the goal. Seeing it in writing helps you to make and stick to your decision.
Integrate your decision into your schedule
Finally, you’ll have to change your schedule. If you’ve planned meetings for the goals you eliminated, cancel them in your calendar. Use these slots for your 1–3 vital goals.
In the future, whenever you receive an email that requests mentoring, public speaking, a collaboration, or a phone call, go through the goal filter to make sure it belongs on your list.
I also recommend doing the above steps not only at the end of the year but also every month to make sure your task list won’t get cluttered again.